Clothe the Naked
Jesus said to St. Faustina: "... I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it" (Diary of St. Faustina, 742). The following is the third part of our seven-part Lenten series on the corporal deeds of mercy and how we can — and should — incorporate them into our lives.
I was ... naked, and you clothed Me.
— Matthew 25:35-36
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "[Human] misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior ... Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church" (2448).
What can we do to clothe the naked?
• Start with going through closets and finding clothing to donate to the needy. "Local thrift shops would be happy to make them available to the needy at a low cost, and often those thrift shops are selling their items to raise money for other good causes, too, such as a local hospital or hospice," says Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.
• Donate time or money to organizations that provide low- or no-cost clothing to the poor.
• Organize a parish group to make trips to the city to pass out clothing to the poor.
Here's an example of a woman who heard the call to clothe the poor:
Meet Kellie Ross, co-founder and chairman of the House of Mercy in Manassass, Va.
My children had gotten up late for school, and I was running around with one shoe on anxiously looking for the other so I could be at school on time to volunteer.
"Where's my shoe?" I cried. But my children — two boys — deaf to my request, kept chasing each other around the house. As I hurried down the stairs, I noticed my shoe underneath the coffee table. Our dog had just feasted on it a few moments before.
"Great," I thought to myself, "it's going to be a great day!"
I hollered at the children to get their coats and shoes on, and as I looked around the room where they were standing, I was astounded to see all of their toys.
"Where did these toys come from?" I asked. "You bought them for us!" my boys said gleefully.
Wow. Who knew I had enough army men that I could have single-handedly supported the war effort? I saw enough stuffed animals to make the Washington National Zoo blush. And baseball cards? We'll just say that the entire Major League was represented at my house. "We're going to have to do something about all of this stuff," I told the boys. "That's my army set! No way!" they responded. There was no time to argue. We were late for school.
Little did I know that later that day two other brothers would move me to tears.
My job as a volunteer at the local elementary school was simple: Take the children to the library and practice handwriting with them. Not hard. Nice environment, and I get to see my kids. I was assigned four children that morning — three boys and a girl.
The children loved to go to the library, so getting them out of the classroom was easy. Getting the children to walk slowly to the library was another thing. Then, I noticed a little boy — I'll call him "Matthew" — who had fallen behind the other children. "Come on, Matthew!" I exclaimed. "Let's catch up to the others." Matthew smiled, but did not seem to move any faster. In fact, he appeared to be limping.
"What's wrong with your foot?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said. "My ankle just hurts a lot."
My self-righteousness took over, and I was sure I knew what the problem was. "Did you fall down? Did your brother David hurt you? Were you skateboarding?"
"No, ma'am," he said. "I didn't fall. My brother wouldn't hurt me. And I don't have a skateboard."
After a few minutes of talking with him, I decided to take a look at his foot. While the other children were catching their breath and beginning their handwriting assignments, I took Matthew and sat him down on a chair. After removing his shoe, I gasped. He had no socks, and his toes were curled. There was a raw mark on the back of his foot. He winced when I rotated his foot.
"Matthew, your shoes are too small." He looked towards the ground as if I had embarrassed him.
"I know, ma'am," he said.
Looking at the size made my heart sink. Alex was roughly the same height and weight as my children, but his shoe was two sizes too small. "Let me see what we can do to help you," I said.
After finishing the assignments we returned to the classroom. I asked the teacher about Matthew, and she told me that he was living in a shelter.
"A shelter? In our area?" I couldn't believe in the Manassas, Va., area — an upper-middle-class suburb of Washington, D.C. — there were children living without permanent housing. I had heard of adult shelters, but not for children.
I then asked the teacher what else he needed. She gave me a list of things, including boots and a coat. Within minutes, I was on my way to Target to buy whatever I could find. I bought the coat, the boots, hats, gloves and other clothes that I thought he could use. As usual, my enthusiasm got the best of me, and I found myself entering the classroom with what looked more like enough clothes to cover a small army, albeit they were one size.
The look on Matthew's face was that of astonishment. Slowly, timidly he approached me, and I handed him the bags. I thought for sure that he would tear through them, as my children would have, or perhaps revel in getting new clothes. Instead, he smiled quietly and said, "Thank you ma'am. They are very nice, but..."
He didn't get a chance to finish when his brother walked into the room. I then knew what he wanted to say.
David, a third grader, approached Matthew and said, "Hey, your teacher wanted me to come see what you got. Show me!" Matthew tentatively showed his brother the coat, the boots and the rest of the belongings.
I braced myself for the impending jealousy. I was sure it was coming. I had seen it before. "What about mine?" I could picture David saying — but he didn't.
He imitated Christ in such a perfect way that my description of this image is but a poor reflection of how beautiful his response was to his younger brother. "Matthew, those are beautiful! Try them on! Show me!" Matthew did as his older brother requested, and it appeared that David was beaming as much as Matthew over his new shoes. David approached me and said, "Thank you, ma'am, for taking care of my brother. He really needed stuff."
I was speechless. There was no jealousy, no envy, no pride, nothing but joy in his brother's gifts.
A knot developed in my stomach as I began to study David's clothes. They were tattered with holes in one knee, and his shoes looked only slightly bigger than those of Matthew, who was two years younger. "Can I try these snow boots, Mrs. Ross?"
"Snow boots," I thought. "It's 70 degrees outside."
"That's OK," David replied. "I don't mind."
Matthew joyfully shared his new boots with his older brother, and both the teacher and I marveled at the tenderness of the two brothers. What touched me the most was the depth of their poverty. So poor, yet sharing all that they had with each other. David wasn't worried about what the other kids would think of him wearing snow boots in 70-degree weather. He was just thankful to have a larger pair of shoes, even though they, too, were too small.
I went out that afternoon and bought similar items for David. As I did, I reflected on my own family and the blessings that God has given me. I didn't deserve the house God gave me, but I thanked Him for it. Then, I realized what the message was the boys were trying to teach me. Everything we own is not ours. It is for whom God wills it. These boys were rich in spirit because they had nothing to be attached to!
In 2008, as our group of Divine Mercy devotees opened the doors to the House of Mercy — a free clothing store for the homeless and needy — I reflected on those boys and wanted to make sure that no child, or adult for that matter, would have to wear "used" shoes.
Accordingly, the House of Mercy embraced the charism of poverty with service. While it is true that we give away thousands of items of clothing per month that are "gently used," all of our shoes, undergarments and accessories are new. We want to restore the dignity of the poor by giving them our best.
Unfortunately, Matthew and David are not unique. Many children, because of financial circumstances, are in shoes that are ill-fitting, or they are wearing tattered clothes. Since opening our doors, we have given away scores of new shoes to families in need.
If a family comes in and needs a pair of shoes in a size we don't have, we take their name and number and send our volunteers out to the stores with gift cards to purchase them. Then we call our clients back and let them know their shoes are in. No gimmicks, no strings, just mercy.
The surprising result of this policy is how many clients weep after receiving shoes and clothing — things I had taken for granted for years. Then I realized that our devotion to Divine Mercy is allowing God to use us as instruments to bring hope to the poor. Amen.
Visit houseofmercyva.org to learn more about Kellie's ministry.